Does the command name matter? Yes!
In the vast majority of cases, when I am called in to help train a dog, we start from scratch! Have you ever wondered why they play the music they do in the elevator, at the shops etc.? It is purpose built. The elevator music does not tend to be hard and fast, it tends to be slow and groovy. Shopping music tends to be upbeat and boppy. The purpose is to affect your mood and therefore influence your behaviour. When your hungry, you will buy more, so to when you are in a rhythm of a groovy 80s cheesy hit classic. The elevator music combats the fear of enclosed spaces and the inevitable...will I ever get out of here.
Same too with our dog training. If there is one take-away from this post it is this:
Don't name it till you love it
What does that mean?
When we are teaching anything we hold off from giving the skill a name as long as we can. There are a few phases within the teaching/learning process.
We use food to entice our dogs and puppies into chasing the lure in an attempt to eat it. When they have successfully completed the repetition they ultimately receive the food. This allows us to establish a modality of training built upon our dog not needing to think too much. Especially for green pet dogs and puppies this allows us to push past their actual willpower and push deeper into practice.
Our dogs always receive the food at the end of a successful repetition.
During this phase, the food is removed from our hand and yet our student dog or puppy maintains their desire for chasing the hand as if it still contained the treat.
It is during this stage that we are weaning off of food, now our markers indicate successful performance and that food is coming. So our dogs learn to maintain their motivation for the food, but learn to push our buttons to get that food.
Our dogs, in short, learn that we are the hunting ground, or indeed the prey item!
Once our dogs are enthusiastically, reliably and predictably targeting our hand - or other teaching aid - and are enjoying a solid rate of success, then and only then would we name the skill.
Why do we hold off for so long?
If we name the skill too early we are including all the bad repetitions, those riddled with confusion, hesitation, big mistakes, blow offs, apprehension and worse yet actual fear in with the good.
Now, as the progression occurs our dogs get better at executing the skill, but the aftertaste of those early and foundational failures come with the advancement. We run the very high risk of the student actively avoiding performance, the student executing at a continued substandard quality or the student blowing you off when you truly need it - a recall immediately springs to mind.
Obviously learning will occur as long as you are consistent in your approach and there are many ways to skin a cat. My quality standards are ever evolving and the more I train the more I am drawn to high quality performance. Because this is the performance where the student dog exhibits desire to accomplish the goal because that's the challenge, the accomplishment. The treat? That becomes secondary.
We name late to ensure that when we need it, our dogs understand it and have the best aftertaste of training rippling through their minds. We name late because then we are naming the performance, the execution and the desire to succeed.
When we name early, we name the hope that our dogs will be interested in what we have.